Houston is among the top cities for veteran entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Houston has moved up the ranks in an annual study of the top places in the U.S. for veteran entrepreneurs.

The study, conducted by the PenFed Foundation and Edelman Data & Intelligence, puts Houston at No. 5 among the best metro areas for veteran entrepreneurs. That’s up from No. 12 in the 2021 study.

The study cites Houston’s economic growth, support for veterans, strong employment, and low unemployment rate among veterans as factors favoring veteran entrepreneurs.

More than 300,000 military veterans live in the Houston area. That’s the second largest population of veterans in the U.S.

Due to the Houston area’s robust veteran population, Bayou City was chosen in 2018 as the site for the third local chapter of Bunker Labs, an accelerator and incubator for military-affiliated entrepreneurs.

At No. 1 in the study is Washington, D.C., followed by:

2. New York City
3. Seattle
4. Dallas-Fort Worth
5. Houston
6. Austin
7. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
8. Cleveland
9. Rapid City, South Dakota
10. Boston

Elsewhere in Texas, McAllen-Edinburg-Mission landed at No. 20 and San Antonio at No. 23.

The study analyzed four categories for each city: livability, economic growth, support for veterans, and ability to start a business. The study evaluated 390 metro areas.

“As the nation navigates the economic impacts of inflation, the study focused especially on how inflation impacts cities differently,” says the PenFed Foundation, established by PenFed Credit Union.

This is the third year for the study.

“We want to help cities across the United States understand which environments are best suited for military veterans to start and grow businesses, and inspire city leaders to take the actions needed to support veteran entrepreneurs,” James Schenck, president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union and CEO of the foundation, says in a news release.

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Houston resilience tech innovator proves out platform amid Hurricane Beryl

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 245

Earlier this month, Ali Mostafavi got an unexpected chance to pilot his company's data-backed and artificial intelligence-powered platform — all while weathering one of Houston's most impactful storms.

Mostafavi, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Texas A&M University, founded Resilitix.AI two years ago, and with the help of his lab at A&M, has created a platform that brings publicly available data into AI algorithms to provide its partners near-real time information in storm settings.

As Hurricane Beryl came ashore with Houston on its path, Mostafavi says he had the opportunity to both test his technology and provide valuable information to his community during the storm.

"We were in the process of fine tuning some of our methods and algorithms behind our technology," Mostafavi says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "When disasters happen, you go to activation mode. We put our technology development and R&D efforts on hold and try to test our technology in an operational setting."

The platform provides its partners — right now, those include local and state organizations and emergency response teams — information on evacuation reports, street flooding, and even damage sustained based on satellite imagery. Mostafavi says that during Beryl, users were wondering how citizens were faring amid rising temperatures and power outages. The Resilitix team quickly pivoted to apply algorithms to hospital data to see which neighborhoods were experiencing high volumes of patients.

"We had the ability to innovate on the spot," Mostafavi says, adding that his own lack of power and internet was an additional challenge for the company. "When an event happens, we start receiving requests and questions. ... We had to be agile and adapt our methods to be responsive. Then at the same time, because we haven't tested it, we have to verify that we are confident (in the information we provide)."

On the episode, Mostafavi shares how Hurricane Harvey — which occurred shortly after Mostafavi moved to Houston — inspired the foundation of Resilitix and how Houston is the ideal spot to grow the company.

"We are very excited that our company is Houston based," he says. "We should not be just ground zero of disasters. We have to also be ground zero for solutions as well. I believe Houston should be the hub for resilience tech innovation as it is for energy transition.

"I think energy transition, climatetech, energy tech, and disaster tech go hand in hand," Mostafavi continues. "I feel that we are in the right place."

Houston-based equitable entrepreneurship tech platform expands programs

coming soon

Fresh off of celebrating the dismissal of a lawsuit from former Trump Administration officials, Hello Alice is expanding some of its offerings for entrepreneurs.

In partnership with top organizations — like Progressive, Antares Capital, Wells Fargo, and FedEx — Hello Alice has added new offerings for its 2024 Boost Camp programs, a mix of skill-building support and grant opportunities.

“We are fortunate to continue working with great enterprise partners who share our commitment to supporting Main Street through crucial grants and mentorship programs,” Carolyn Rodz, CEO and co-founder of Hello Alice, says in a news release. “Small businesses drive our economy, yet often lack the necessary financing and resources. By partnering with major companies, Hello Alice is ensuring that small businesses have access to the tools and opportunities they need to thrive and create jobs in their local communities. Together, we are building a robust support system that fosters innovation and growth for small businesses across the country.”

This year's programs, according to Hello Alice, are as follows:

  • Antares Capital REACH Cohort: The Antares REACH Grant Program provides $20,000 grants to small businesses. Grant recipients will also take part in Antares’ Growth Track Boost Camp program, a digital community which will be home to monthly business coaching workshops, mentorship, networking, and more. Applications are open until June 28, and the program begins August 8.
  • Progressive Driving Small Business Forward Grant & Booster Camp Program: Progressive is dedicating $1 million to award 20 deserving businesses with a $50,000 grant each. Grant recipients will be invited to attend an exclusive 12-week virtual Boost Camp coaching program. Applications have closed for the program beginning September 10.
  • Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo is supporting four virtual accelerator programs over the next 18 months, designed to support up to 500 participants for each program, with a focus on business health and credit-building practices. Applications will be announced this summer for the program, which will begin in early fall.
  • FedEx: The FedEx Entrepreneur Fund supports entrepreneurs in the United States by providing them with the necessary funding, resources, and networks to enhance the success of their businesses, including the Boost Camp coaching program.
  • Applications will be announced this fall for the program, which will begin in the winter.

More information and application access is available online.

Last year's Boost programs benefitted 100 small businesses, according to Hello Alice, which reported that the 2023 Antares REACH Cohort resulted in 60 percent of participants seeing an increase in their Business Health Score and 93 percent felt better equipped to confront challenges and capitalize on opportunities. In the end, 85 percent of participants feeling more optimistic about their business growth prospects.

"Hello Alice is proud to partner with high-level enterprise companies to empower small businesses and foster their success," Natalie Diamond, vice president of business development at Hello Alice, adds. "Together, we are creating unparalleled opportunities for entrepreneurs to achieve brand success, drive financial fitness, and thrive in today's competitive market. Our joint endeavors not only offer access to capital and resources but also provide tailored guidance and mentorship, arming small business owners with the insights and support necessary to navigate challenges and seize growth opportunities.”

Houston company's sustainable oil product reaches milestone production capacity 5 years early

overachieving

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita has achieved a key production goal five years ahead of schedule.

Thanks to technology advancements, Cemvita is now capable of generating 500 barrels per day of sustainable oil from carbon waste at its first commercial plant. As a result, Cemvita has quadrupled output at the Houston plant. The company had planned to reach this milestone in 2029.

Cemvita, founded in 2017, says this achievement paves the way for increased production capacity, improved operational efficiency, and an elevated advantage in the sustainable oil market.

“What’s so amazing about synthetic biology is that humans are just scratching the surface of what’s possible,” says Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita. “Our focus on the first principles has allowed us to design and create new biotech more cheaply and faster than ever before.”

The production achievement follows Cemvita’s recent breakthrough in development of a solvent-free extraction bioprocess.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.